• Run right at them. Despite finishing the regular season as the top-ranked defense, the Steelers have been vulnerable against the run in recent weeks (allowing 164 yards per game in the past three contests) -- especially the power running game between the tackles.
Look for the Jags to test the middle of the Steelers' defense by running Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew on an assortment of leads, powers and isolations right up the gut.
• Take deep shots off play-action. With the Steelers likely using eight-man fronts to stop the Jags' second-ranked rush attack, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will incorporate more play-action passes into the game plan to exploit the aggressiveness of safeties Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter. Expect to see David Garrard connect with receivers Reggie Williams and Dennis Northcutt on a series of deep crossers set-up by strong run-action fakes.
• Sit in two-deep. The loss of Willie Parker gives the Jags the freedom to use their two-deep zone (seven men in the box) on early downs. By using the soft zone often, the Jags will eliminate the Steelers' big-play opportunities while allowing their front four to feast on Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket.
Steelers' Game Plan
• Be patient with the run. Though Roethlisberger is enjoying an outstanding season as a passer, the Steelers lack the offensive line to protect him in a pass-happy game plan. Therefore, expect the Steelers to lean on the running game during the early stages of the contest. By running Najeh Davenport effectively, the Steelers can draw the Jags into more single-high safety looks, which open up the passing game for Roethlisberger.
• Stay home. The Steelers' recent run-defense woes stem from their second-level defenders (linebackers and safeties) over-running their assigned gaps. And runners have been exploiting the over pursuit by attacking soft spots on the backside. Look for the Steelers to solve this issue by having the backside safety (Polamalu) flow through the weak side A or B gap before chasing the ball.
• Feature more man-blitzes. Garrard has quietly put together an outstanding season (102.1 passer rating) by working efficiently in their ball-control offense. Through his use of sight adjustments and check downs, Garrard has completed 64% of his passes with 18 touchdowns, while throwing only three interceptions. Look for the Steelers to force Garrard out of his comfort zone by incorporating more man-blitzes into the game plan. By using man-blitzes instead of zone pressures, the Steelers can eliminate quick throws that Garrard has used to keep the Jags' offense ahead of the chains.
Redskins' Game Plan
• Grind it out. The key to the Redskins' four-game winning streak has been their reliance on the running game dictating the tempo of the game. Averaging 32 rushing attempts during their successful run, the Redskins have slowed down the game and have consistently kept Todd Collins in manageable situations. Given the explosiveness of the Seahawks' offense and the success of the approach over the past month, expect the Redskins to keep the ball on the ground to create a low-scoring affair.
• Organized chaos. The Seahawks' high-powered offense has extensively used the passing game to move the ball effectively over the last half of the season. Therefore, the Redskins must find a way to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the passing game by constantly varying their coverage and pressures. Look for Gregg Williams to blitz early to set the table for an effective disguise package, featuring a bluff and drop look with eight defenders in coverage.
• Bracket Engram on third down. The Seahawks' leading receiver, Bobby Engram, finished the regular season with 94 receptions but is most effective as Matt Hasselbeck's top target in third down situations. With Engram playing such a vital role as the Seahawks' slot receiver, the Redskins will use more bracket coverage to lessen his impact in crucial situations. Look for London Fletcher or a slot defender to provide inside help when Engram works from the slot on third down.
Seahawks' Game Plan
• Don't abandon the run. Despite the Seahawks' preference for the pass, they will need an effective running game to slow the Redskins' aggressive pressure package. Shaun Alexander is rounding into form, so look for the Seahawks to surprise the Redskins by running the ball early and often. If Alexander can muster 75 or more yards, the Seahawks will be able to attack the Redskins' secondary with play-action passes.
• Feature the four-receiver package. Mike Holmgren recognizes the strength of the Seahawks' offense lies with their receiving corps (Nate Burleson, D.J. Hackett, Deion Branch and Engram), so he often features a variety of four-receiver sets throughout the game. Facing a Redskins' defense that has ratcheted up the pressure in recent weeks, expect the Seahawks to jump into their "Eagle" package to exploit favorable matchups in space.
• Attack Todd Collins with five-man pressures. Though Collins has performed well since stepping into the lineup, his shaky performance against the Giants will encourage coordinator John Marshall to use an assortment of five-man pressures in passing situations. Collins lacks the mobility to elude the rush, so the constant harassment will disrupt his rhythm. Look for Julian Peterson, Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu to be major factors as part of the Seahawks' pressure package.
Giants' Game Plan
• Run up the middle. The Bucs' defense routinely overwhelms offenses with their speed and quickness. But the undersized front seven is susceptible to wearing down against power offenses. Look for the Giants to neutralize the Bucs' team speed by pounding Brandon Jacobs persistently between the tackles on isolations and leads.
• Take shots to Plaxico Burress on first down. The Bucs use a variety of eight-man fronts to stop the run on early downs. But the use of an additional defender in the box allows Burress to work against single coverage outside. Expect Eli Manning to exploit the soft coverage by connecting with Burress repeatedly on first down, via an assortment of intermediate routes (curls, digs and comebacks).
• Keep Jeff Garcia confined to the pocket. The Bucs' veteran signal-caller has a knack for using his improvisational skills to create big plays in the passing game. Therefore, expect the Giants to focus on keeping Garcia confined to the pocket. Look for the Giants to use more off the edge pressures to force Garcia to step up into the waiting arms of Fred Robbins and Justin Tuck.
Bucs' Game Plan
• Take deep shots from run-heavy formations. Despite ranking only 16th in passing offense, the Bucs have generated the third most completions over 40 yards (11), with Joey Galloway producing eight of those explosive plays. And the key to his success has been Jon Gruden's clever use of the vertical passing game out of run-heavy formations. By using a tight or run-heavy formation, Gruden is able to eliminate double coverage on Galloway and get his speedster alone on safeties down the field. Look for the Bucs to use the tactic to attack a vulnerable Giants' secondary.
• Stop the run. The Giants' fourth-ranked rushing attack poses a major challenge to the Bucs' defense, due to their reliance on the power runs between the tackles. The Bucs' linebackers (Barrett Ruud, Cato June and Derrick Brooks) lack the size to take on blockers directly, so expect coordinator Monte Kiffin to use more run blitzes to get his playmakers on the move. By shooting June, Ruud and Brooks through gaps, the Bucs should be able to outmaneuver the Giants at the point of attack and keep Brandon Jacobs from getting untracked.
• Blanket the passing game. Although Eli Manning had a strong performance against the Patriots, he's still an inconsistent passer with a penchant for turnovers in crucial situations. The Bucs will test Manning's decision-making skills by blanketing the Giants receivers with their two-deep coverage. If Manning ignores the check down and forces the ball upfield, look for the Bucs to come down with critical turnovers off tips and overthrows.
Titans' Game Plan
• Feature the inside zone. The Titans' smash-mouth running game features a pair of downhill runners (LenDale White and Chris Brown) who have a knack for finding soft spots in defenses. With the Chargers using more run blitzes to create penetration, the inside zone should give White and Brown plenty of options to find creases up the gut. If the Titans can pop a few big runs early, they can force the Chargers to play straight up and attack them with a variety of power runs between the tackles.
• Handle the blitz. With the Chargers bringing pressure on all downs, the Titans must incorporate several blitz beaters into the game plan to handle pressure. If Vince Young suits up, look for the Titans to feature more QB runs (draws and read-options) to take advantage of the aggressive upfield rush. If Kerry Collins gets the start, expect the Titans to beat the blitz by using various elements of the quick game (slants, quick outs and bubble screens) to neutralize the pressure.
• Stick with the plan. After reviewing film of their first matchup, Jim Schwartz will likely use several of the strategies that helped the Titans bottle up the Chargers' offense for three quarters. Look for the Titans to primarily pressure with four rushers with an assortment of zone coverage behind it. The Chargers were unable to contain Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch on straight rushes, so adding a variety of stunts will increase the pressure on Philip Rivers in the pocket.
Chargers' Game Plan
• Use more perimeter runs. After watching their star runner struggle for most of the first half in last month's matchup against the Titans, the Chargers used more perimeter runs in the second half to get LaDainian Tomlinson untracked. Look for the Chargers to start the game featuring an assortment of off-tackle runs to avoid dealing with Haynesworth inside.
• Go to Chambers early. With the Titans' defense focused on limiting Antonio Gates' impact in the passing game, the Chargers would be wise to feature Chris Chambers during the opening stages of the game. By feeding Chambers early, the Chargers can loosen the Titans' coverage and create more room for Gates to operate over the middle.
• Stuff the box. The Titans' average more rushing attempts per game (33.9) than any other team in the league, so stopping the run will be the Chargers' top priority. Expect the Chargers to use several eight-man looks with Marlon McCree playing the role of a quasi-linebacker in the box.
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